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Battling Big Money: Vermont Town Meetings Will Move to Amend | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Battling Big Money: Vermont Town Meetings Will Move to Amend

If the polls are to be believed, big money—in the form of Mitt “Corporations Are People, My Friend” Romney—will be on the march this Super Tuesday in much of the country.

But it will lose some ground at the grassroots level in Vermont.

At town hall meetings across the state, in a great show of small-“d” democratic determination to renew the promise of the American experiment, thousands of Vermont voters will vote on resolutions urging that the US Constitution be amended to declare that corporations are not people.

The resolutions are a response to the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling by the US Supreme Court, one of a number of recent High Court decisions that have for all intents and purposes given corporations and wealthy individuals the “right” to spend whatever amount of money they choose to buy elections.

This year’s Republican presidential race, with its flood of Super PAC spending, has provided a glimpse of what politics will be like in the Citizens United era. And Americans don’t like it. But to get their democracy back, citizens must reclaim the Constitution.

Vermonters will do so in a big way Tuesday.

Communities across the Green Mountain State will go on record—“In light of the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that equates money with speech and gives corporations rights constitutionally intended for natural persons…”—“to urge the Vermont Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Congress to propose a U.S. Constitutional amendment for the States’ consideration which provides that money is not speech, and that corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution…”

The Vermont communities that move to amend the Constitution will not be the first in the country to do so. A year ago, Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison and surrounding Dane County voted overwhelmingly to support proposals to amend the Constitution so that the money power does not overwhelm democracy.

Since then, legislatures in two states (Hawaii and New Mexico) and counties, cities, villages and towns across the country have endorsed amendment proposals. Members of Congress, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have begun to propose such amendments.

But the Vermont town meeting votes Tuesday will send what many see as the loudest signal yet—both because of the number of communities involved and because of the resonance of town meetings as vehicles for expressing grassroots democratic sentiments.

“People are starting to put the pieces together; they’re all doing it all at the same time, all across the country,” says Bill Butler, of the town of Jericho (population 5,355), who has been a prime mover on behalf of the proposal that will be considered by Vermont communities from Burlington to Brattleboro, from Randolph to Rutland.

“You start putting these together, I think you have the beginning of the most dynamic political movement in this country,” says Butler. “It’s because people are realizing they have to do it and they have to do it now.”

The “Vermonters Say Corporations Are Not People” campaign is part of a movement. National groups that are backing the amendment strategy—including Public Citizen, Common Cause, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Move to Amend—are helping the town-meeting push, as are the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Peace and Justice Center of Vermont and Occupy Vermont.

According to a new poll by the Castleton Polling Institute, 76 percent of Vermonters favor amending the Constitutional to limit spending on political campaigns. Notably 57 percent of Vermonters who identify as Republicans support such an amendment.

And they’ve got a senator on their side.

With town meeting resolutions to spur him on, Bernie Sanders will push the Senate to take up his Saving American Democracy Amendment, which would affirm that:

* Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.

* Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.

* Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.

* Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.

Bernie Sanders is speaking for Vermont and for a movement when he says: “There comes a time when an issue is so important that the only way to address it is by a constitutional amendment.”

John Nichols’s new book on protests and politics, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street, has just been publshed by Nation Books. Follow John Nichols on Twitter @NicholsUprising.

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